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Tyson Beatable If Not Taking Care of Business

February 05, 1989|TIM DAHLBERG | Associated Press

FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. — Frank Bruno was having little problem battering sparring partner James Pritchard, much to the delight of the retirees who crowded inside a makeshift tent to watch the workout.

Pritchard, a compact heavyweight, was supposed to be emulating Mike Tyson, who Bruno will fight for the heavyweight title. Except he didn't fight much like Tyson.

"Tyson throws a lot more punches than I do," Pritchard admitted. "And he throws them awfully hard."

Bruno is likely to find that out the hard way Feb. 25 when he steps into the Las Vegas Hilton ring an overwhelming underdog against Tyson.

The hulking British challenger -- who hasn't fought in 16 months -- is a 9 1/2-1 underdog against Tyson. Oddsmakers say it is even money whether the fight will last a full four rounds.

Even Pritchard, Bruno's own sparring partner, admits his employer may be in over his head.

"I give Frank one of the best chances because of the controversy in Tyson's life," Pritchard says. "But without the controversy, Tyson is basically unbeatable."

The turmoil in Tyson's life is also on Bruno's mind as he trains daily before a bleacher filled with spectators in this planned community in the hills outside of Phoenix. Bruno came here in early January to set up his camp well away from his British followers and the media.

"This is a peak time to beat Mike Tyson," Bruno insists. "What he is going through -- I don't think his mind is 100 percent on the job."

That Bruno is pinning some of his chance of winning the title on Tyson being distracted by his marital and managerial problems may be an indication that this fight will be as much a mismatch as most of Tyson's fights have been.

"After the fight you ask Frank Bruno whether it was such a peak time," Tyson said.

Still, Bruno is upbeat and confident as he enters his final week of training before breaking camp for Las Vegas.

"I'm actually looking forward to the fight," he said. "The pressure is not on me. He's got everything to prove to everyone."

The normally affable contender bristled recently when a reporter asked him if he was fighting Tyson just for the $3.8 million payday, with no hope of winning.

"That's a crazy question," he shot back. "I've made money before and this ain't about money. I've got a nice life, a good home, a family. I'm content with my life. But I'm not going to let the cherry pass me by again."

Bruno, despite his 32-2 record and No. 1 ranking by the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council, enters the fight with somewhat less than sterling credentials.

He was stopped in his first try for the heavyweight title in the 11th round by Tim Witherspoon in July 1986, and has not fought since October 1987 when he stopped an aging Joe Bugner in the eighth round in London.

Bruno's chin is also suspect, as evidenced by his knockout losses to Witherspoon and James "Bonecrusher" Smith.

"I was a young man when I fought Smith and Witherspoon," the 27-year-old challenger said. "I matured late, Mike Tyson matured early. I'm a man now, I've got a couple years on my chest."

Bruno does have power, with 31 of his wins coming by knockout, but at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds he has the body more of a weightlifter than a fighter and his punches are often slow in reaching their mark.

That could be a fatal flaw against the 22-year-old champion, who throws punches from everywhere and possesses the quickness of few heavyweights before him.

"He is a windmill sort of guy," Bruno said. "I'm conditioning myself for that. My punches will also be coming from everywhere."

Bruno talks vaguely about a "plan" he has to beat Tyson, but says he can't reveal it. His manager, Terry Lawless, though, is more forthcoming.

"The key to beating Tyson is getting him to go backwards," Lawless says. "He can't do anything fighting backwards."

Lawless sees Bruno keeping Tyson at a distance with a stiff left jab, then backing him up with combinations until he at some point hurts the champion.

"That's the theory, but of course he'll have to do it the night of the fight," Lawless admits.

Bruno, who has fought outside of England only three times, was supposed to have met Tyson in London last September.

But the fight was postponed six different times and finally moved to Las Vegas at Tyson's request. Instead of 60,000 hometown fans cheering him on, Bruno will rely on the support of about 3,000 of his countrymen who are scheduled to make the trip for the fight.

"I understand I'm the underdog, but I get strength from it," Bruno said. "Being in America I'm an underdog. Being British means I'm another underdog."

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